Archive for Change Resistance


Driving Successful Change by Engaging the Entire Person

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Most change programs use tools and tactics which focus on building knowledge and skills.  Telling people what they need to do and providing resources and training to execute those activities.  While this is a great start, focusing on only those two elements (what I call the Head and the Hands) misses a crucial element of total engagement and long-term support, the Heart. 

How might your project soar if you focused on more ways to get to the heart of the matter?

How might your project soar if you focused on more ways to get to the heart of the matter?

In business settings we are often uncomfortable (a feeling) discussing emotions and how they are affecting the employees.  But they are part of every human being.  They drive both decision making and behaviors, whether we are conscious of this or not.  To truly drive effective change, you need to engage the Heart, where our motivation comes from.  Simply knowing something isn’t enough to drive people to make lasting behavior changes; they need to be emotionally engaged.  

I call this the Head-Heart-Hands model. 

Individuals need to be:

  • Ready … to take on the changes and accept the new way of thinking and / or behaving
  • Willing … to visibly sponsor and promote changes as the right thing to do
  • Able … to perform in the new manner, with the new processes, tools, and applications

It is critical to recognize the importance each of these components and build change programs and activities to support all aspects.  A change effort is most successful when you engage the entire person, their Head, Heart, and Hands.

I’ll close with a few items for you to ponder:

  • When was the last time you had a conversation at work about emotions?
  • How do you factor emotions into planning your change programs?
  • For change programs which were less successful was something left out? 
  • For change programs that were highly successful, were all elements included?
  • What actions can you take to actively engage the Heart, the emotions?  
  • When you as an individual believe you have been “heard”, how do you feel?  How motivated are you? 

I like to be treated like a whole person.  Don’t you?

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Is it Change Resistance or Sabotage?

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Image obtained from article on the “top-25-optical-illusions-on-the-web-4”

Interpretation can be everything.  How a situation looks (or feels) depends on many things including our background, experience, and expectations.  Whether a situation is change resistance or sabotage depends on how you see it.

Recently our Organization Change Practitioners group had a very robust dialog about this topic.  The discussion was led by John P. Barbuto, MD.  John graciously agreed to write about this for Ponderings & Insights.  Here’s John’s story.

“This famous “optical illusion” image can be seen in two dramatically different ways: as a white candlestick on a black background, or as two silhouetted faces on a white background. 

It all depends upon where you focus attention.

In like manner, a recent discussion of the topic “sabotage” on LinkedIn, with the context being organizational change management, produced two very different views of actively resistant behavior.  In one view, when an organization wishes to accomplish a change and some people resist it to the extent of trying to actively prevent the change from occurring then this action was seen as an attempt to sabotage the change project.  In another view, the same situation was seen with the focus on the individual – feeling that he/she must have a reason for strongly resisting and perhaps resistance was even an action of corporate patriotism.  In the LinkedIn discussion things became heated.  Some participants even advocated that there is no such thing as sabotage.  People began to attack each other, even though this was a discussion of people who considered themselves experts in bringing about change within organizations.

As human beings we do have differing views.  We may see exactly the same situation, focus on differing aspects of it, and interpret the situation entirely differently.  If those views are additionally linked to very personal and cherished beliefs or values then emotions rise when there is challenge to the cherished view.

In human evolution and neural development emotions came before logic.  This is reflected in neuroanatomy.  The relative locations of emotional centers (in the limbic system) versus “rational thought” centers (in the cortex, particularly frontal cortex) reveal not only that the limbic system developed earlier but also that it has access to incoming information first.  So, while in this stage of evolution we often prefer to think of ourselves as rational beings, neuroanatomy reveals that emotions can hold our rational thought captive.  In the context of organizational change management we do well to remember this basic neuroanatomical lesson.

Where cherished beliefs or values are “on the line” hot emotions may usurp control from cool and analytical thought.  The ability to see a “picture” in its various forms, and consider them, may give way to defense of a particular view.  Things fall apart.  Even professionals can lose their centering and devolve into attack and defense.

So, is there such a thing as sabotage in the context of organizational change projects?  Apparently it depends upon the point of view.  Most certainly, individuals within an organization may seek to resist a proposed change, and even subvert group movement toward its accomplishment.  But, whether you call this “sabotage” or “patriotism” apparently depends upon who you talk to.”

In Conclusion…

One of the most important sentences for me in John’s story was “The ability to see a ‘picture’ in its various forms, and consider them, may give way to defense of a particular view.”  Not all the participants in the dialog were reactionary.  There were a number who did demonstrate this ability and it added to the richness of the discussion.

I believe that the ability to look at a situation from multiple viewpoints is a critical skill.  It should be both fostered in others and utilized regularly within yourself.  Often this requires stopping yourself from reacting immediately, stepping back, and digging deeper into both your thoughts and emotional reactions.  Try to place yourself on the other side of the metaphorical table and think about how the view might look from over there.  I personally find this exercise quite valuable and am in fact working to teach it to my children.  It’s a valuable lifelong skill.

I respectfully request that you not to undervalue those “hot emotions.”  Emotional responses are triggered for some reason.  Seek to understand the reason, not just the reaction.  The typical problem within interactions is not the emotional response, but rather what you say and do without thinking thru the situation.  Your brain and body are contributing to both your emotions and intellect.  Understand both.  Value both.

As noted in the prior article, Is it Resistance…  Maybe Not, it’s important to dig down into the roots of your reactions.  Often times you will find that there are more layers of analysis going on than just what is in your conscious mind or what you initially interpret through your emotional response.  It is critical that you balance the whole of yourself.  Respecting the whole of others too. 

If you can, I highly recommend following the links over to Wikipedia and reading more about how our brain works.  Understanding better how our minds and bodies operate can be useful in a myriad of circumstances.

Can you help? 

When I set up the Wikipedia links, I noticed a number of pages needed updating.  If you know individuals qualified to provide updates to these important pages of literature, please ask them for their assistance.  I’ve prompted John to see if he will participate. 

A Word of Thanks

My thanks to those of you who help Wikipedia in ways both big and little.  I believe it is one of the most important things on the Internet these days.  If each individual who uses it would commit to supporting the content development at least once a year, it would continue to be the amazing resource that it is.  Small efforts by numberous people can have amazingly large impacts.

A Shout Out of THANKS to John P. Barbuto, MD for his contribution to this Pondering & Insights article.  I’m hoping John will continue to provide insights here on how our minds and emotions connect.  I enjoyed his story and hope you did too.

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What's going on in your mind?

I had a very interesting experience with resistance this morning.  It reminded me that we should value resistance.  Yes, value it.

Within the world of change management, organizational change, organizational development, (the list goes on), resistance is often seen as something negative.  Something that you need to manage or overcome.  

However, if you step back from the existence of resistance and seek to discover the root cause, you might uncover some very interesting things.  I did.  

Resistance can be expressed across multiple dimensions.  It is something that you might experience on a mental level – through self-discussions.  It might be something that you feel emotionally – possibly raising your anxiety level.  It might be something expressed at a physical or gut level – perhaps you felt your muscles contract.  Your conscious mind is only a minor fraction of the processing that is going on within our bodies. The reactions you feel or sense are typically based on much more than what you are consciously aware of.

The Backstory

If you’ve been reading my writing for a while you may remember me talking about a great group of people that I met through Linked In. People who I met on-line that I feel have moved from the peer/colleague category to the friend category. I wrote about them in my article, Penguin Leadership: Alone in a Crowd.

The group grew organically, without any intention for it to become what it has: a sounding board, a shoulder to lean on, a group of friends to vent with, and a group to push boundaries of thinking with. We’ve never met in person – our locations range from California to Canada to Belgium. Side Note: at this point, there are six of us in the group (Bill Braun has joined us since the article was written).

The Event

This morning a request came to add another person to our group (one might say clique but that can sound negative). I had a very visceral reaction that said “I’m not sure I like that idea.” I stepped back from my computer for a bit but the feeling still hung on. So I shared my reaction – that I wasn’t sure and needed to think about this.

Given that I’m a fairly open and friendly person, my gut reaction startled me. In part, because it was so strong.  I even made a joke to the group about whether I was experiencing “change resistance.”

I forced myself to step back and analyze why I was feeling the way I was. What I discovered was that my strong reaction came from the value I placed on my interactions with this group. My fear was that adding a new individual would trigger changes in the style of interactions. Hum, time for me to dig a bit deeper.

Digging Down to the Roots

I realized that in many ways, this group has evolved from a peer group to a support + peer group. Many days this past month I would put that support has been predominant.

I believe that our Penguin Club members “get me”. They get my thinking process. They value my opinions. They seek to not just listen but to hear what I am trying to say. I can be candid, open, honest, direct, and fraught with human frailties in a safe and supportive place. How often can you say that? It’s something not to be undervalued.

I have a high level of trust from the group members. Unfortunately today, trust is a fairly rare commodity. But that’s a story for another day.

In the insanity of life that we live in these days, the value of these types of relationships should not be underestimated. They should be treasured. How many friends and colleagues out there can you say this about?

As this group grew organically, we had no defined objectives or governance structures. We simply threw out questions to the group, sought second opinions, and discussed concepts that interested us.  This morning’s experience was a fascinating study (at least to me) in group dynamics. How different the informal evolution can be from the formal structures we often engage in.

During our flurry of emails this morning we are starting to unpack what it is we want and value from this group.  It’s not always the same. 

Have we made a decision about adding to our Penguin Club, no.  Have the emails been flying fast and furious, yes.  I actually glad that we are not making the decision lightly. 

The Potential Impacts

I do believe that if there was a brand new group member, the nature of what we were shared this morning would be different.  I don’t think we would have been as open and honest about thoughts and gut reactions. 

Do I think we should avoid adding someone new to keep the status quo?  Not necessarily.  What I do want to ensure is that we as a group are aware of the potential cost and make an effort to move through the transition in a way that is comfortable for everyone.

I can say that this experience has been an interesting study in Group Dynamics, Social Networking, and Trust.  It’s a microcosm of events that happen at work and in social settings each and every day.

The lessons for me today are twofold:  TRUST yourself and HONOR your feelings of resistance.  You are feeling them for some reason.  Stop and ask yourself about the root causes.  You might just discover something interesting.  I did.  

I gained insight into myself, my wants and desires of the group, and the level of trust I was feeling for the individuals in the group.  I also learned how very important this group of people was to me.  Our interactions and discussion are precious and should be treated as such.  

That was the root of my resistance.  It had absolutely nothing to do about the potential new person and everything to do with my connection to the existing.  It was less about resistance and more about personal value.

In Conclusion…

How might this experience translate into your personal life, your work, your social interactions, or the business environment? 

Do you stop and think “why” when you have a negative reaction?  Do you explore the roots of your feelings and feelings of resistance?  Do you trust your feelings, impressions, and instincts?  How do you honor them?

Rather than just believing that resistance is something to be overcome, make the effort to understand its root cause(s).  Both within yourself and within others.  Honor it; don’t just focus on overcoming it.  Value other individual’s emotional and physical reactions as well as your own.  They are just as big a part of who the person is as the intellectual ones. 

My perception is that we often forget this; that we do not value enough the underlying subconscious processing that our minds and bodies are doing.  We need to remember the whole of ourselves, not just the individual parts.

Each part of yourself should be valued; your thoughts, your emotions, your physical reactions, as well as your spiritual needs.  When you feel resistance, unpack it a bit.  Explore its roots.  You just might find out something about yourself you didn’t expect. 

In the end, you might also find you make a different choice.


Let’s talk about Resistance: A conversation with Rick Maurer

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I had the wonderful opportunity to talk to Rick Maurer one-on-one this week.   He is the pioneer of facilitating the open discussions we can now have about Resistance.  During our conversation he shared some of his personal evolution to becoming the Resistance Guru.

Rick not only shared his thinking with me, but allowed me to bounce some of my current thinking off of him.  I enjoyed the compare and contrast – the open dialog.

For those of you who don’t know who Rick is, here’s extract from his bio: “Rick Maurer, a renowned change management expert, speaker and bestselling author, educates audiences on how to get results from major change without headaches, cost overruns, and hidden problems…or Change Without Migraines™.”  Click here to get to the full bio and web-site.

Rick broke down the way he thinks about resistance and change into four groups:

  1. Knowing – Do you know what to do
  2. Doing – Practicing what you need to do
  3. Hidden Commitments
  4. Hidden Beliefs/Culture

To my way of thinking, the first two are easy to discuss.  Everyone is willing to talk about them.  The greater challenge is in the last two.

One of the insightful statements he made was when you understand why people resist, you can understand why they support.  Rick used the visual of a person leaning in or leaning out during a conversation about support.  Me, I’ve almost always leaned in.  I am insatiably curious and have a genuine interest in others as individuals – their thoughts, desires, and goals.  I wonder how often we actually talk about what makes people support projects to change themselves or their actions?

I think that there are a myriad of elephants hidden in those last two.  What are the underlying beliefs that are causing resistance?  Until we can deal with them more overtly, change initiatives will continue to fail at the alarming rate that they do.

As for myself, I’m going to be talking about those elephants.  I hope that you will too.

If you aren’t feeling like it or are concerned about doing so, I challenge you to ask yourself where the resistance is coming from.  Take a look at the four groups above.  See what you might discover about yourself.  Good luck!

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What's on, or rather in, your mind?

What's on, or rather in, your mind?

A recent dialog in a Linked In HR group for Organization Development and Training practioners focused on the concept of “unlearning.”  Can we actually unlearn? 

The concept of “unlearning” has been circulating for a while.   While the idea of “unlearning” might be useful, that’s not really what’s going on within your brain. 

First, let’s review what was posted by Ilze Els, who provides some insights into how the brain actually works.  For those who have read my article, Stop, Look, and Listen, you will see that she touched upon what I was discussing there – the conscious and unconscious mind.  On to Ilze’s post…

“Broadly speaking there are two parts of the brain: working memory and hardwiring/long-term memory: the conscious mind versus the unconscious mind.   Working memory doesn’t really hold very much; in fact only about 7 items at any one time.  Hardwiring/long-term memory holds everything we actually know which basically means anything that you don’t need to think about anymore.  Our brains are designed to push things down into our hardwiring/long-term memory to keep our working memory fresh.

Think about the learning journey – taking on new learning is tiring and hard work and causes stress.  Creating new wiring takes up a lot of effort and resources – literally.  Once we have learned something however (hard wiring) we don’t have to actively think about it anymore and it becomes easy.  The information stored in hardwiring/long-term memory becomes the basis for how we view the world and create new learning.  We perceive the world around us based on our own unique experiences and what bits of information we have stored in our brains from these past experiences.  Thus our reality is our interpretation of the world based on the way our brains are wired.

It’s practically impossible to deconstruct our wiring.  It doesn’t take long to hardwire things – anything we think about several times over makes many connections in the brain thus getting hard wired.

It’s an attention economy in the brain.  Anything we give focus to can become hardwired (remember the brain works hard to get things out of short term memory and into long term memory – it uses less resources this way!).  The more we focus on a given connection, the more we deepen that connection.  In fact what happens when we try to get rid of some wiring is that we actually think about it even more thereby making it even stronger.

It’s almost impossible to get rid of old wiring just by thinking about it!  For example, if you are told not to think about smoking, you immediately think about smoking.  The more you try not to think about smoking the more our brains will tend to focus on smoking.  This increased focus tends to deepen the wiring even further rather than erase it. 

Numerous studies have shown that the ability to effectively handle change is a key predictor for success.  However, the fact is, our brains are hard-wired to resist change.  When we encounter something new, a whole set of automatic responses take over the brain and the body, often interfering with our ability to respond optimally.  Break-through research shows that we can “re-wire” our brains to make changes, throughout the human life span and at any age.  You can“out-smart” your brain when it comes to handling change.  It’s easy to create new wiring. 

Luckily however it’s almost effortless to create new wiring – it’s what our brains are designed to do.  We are able to reconcile impasses by creating new maps.  This is what happens in the moment you have an insight.  As long as we are given the opportunity and encouragement to reflect, we create hard wiring.

Bringing in a new wiring doesn’t get rid of the old wiring.  It’s still there – it’s just not being used so much.  The phrase ‘use it or lose it’ is very relevant here.  By using the old wiring less it becomes weaker and less able to guide our perceptions/thinking, whereas the new wiring becomes stronger and takes priority over the old wiring.

Until very recently, it was widely believed that the human brain is hard-wired in childhood and determined largely by genetics.  Not so.  Current scientific research demonstrates that the brain is capable of growth throughout our lifetime and that while neural connections can disintegrate through lack of use, new connections can also be created.  This ability to re-wire the brain is known as neuroplasticity.

Think of our person wanting to stop smoking – thinking about why you smoke just increases the hard wiring for smoking; thinking about what else you could do at the moment of wanting to smoke creates new wiring.

We create millions of maps every second – with so much going on inside each person’s brain, it behooves us to make it easier for each other and keep things simple.  We love making connections – we often feel energized when we make connections.  It feels good to make connections and have everything fit into our mental maps.  No longer must we believe that our behavior is pre-determined.  If such behavior is changeable, then we can change it.  It is a liberating idea. Understanding your hard-wiring and how to work with it to fully realize your potential.”

Here’s my follow on to Ilze’s post…

My educational background brings me in alignment with Ilze, but then of course I am always open to re-wiring… :-)

I personally think of it as “scaffolding” and creating mental overlays.  The old one is there, the one on top is simply stronger.  Whether it is physically on top within the brain is a whole nother discussion…

If you can create a “bridge” from the first hard wiring point to the new item you want to hard wire it can be processed and embedded more quickly.  We see this in the use of analogies.  Part of the trick in the rewiring (when you want to “unlearn” something) is to focus on the benefits or positives of the new, not the negatives of the old, which will reinforce the earlier hard coding.

The underlying message within Ilze’s response (at least as I see it) is the value of better understanding psychology, cognative science, and medical science.  The better you actually understand how the human brain works, the better able you are to design and redesign things in a way that will “stick”.  Rather than “unlearning”, you “forget”, “bury” or “overwrite” something with new and better information.

I touch upon these concepts – albeit more indirectly – in a couple of my blogs:  If Life is Like a Box of Chocolates, What am I? and Stop, Look, and Listen.”

So what are the take-away messages:

  • The better we understand how the mind itself works, the better we can plan Change Programs.
    • If you work in the Change Management arena (not just the Training and Development arena where this dialog occured), it behoves you to actually understand how the mind works. 
    • The more we can help our target audience (whether training related or other CM activities), the better we can help them learn and adjust.
  • Our brains are designed to push things down into our hardwiring/long-term memory to keep our working memory fresh.
    • The information stored in hardwiring/long-term memory becomes the basis for how we view the world and create new learning. 
    • If you understanding your hard-wiring and how to work with it, it helps you realize your potential.
    • We perceive the world around us based on our own unique experiences and what bits of information we have stored in our brains from these past experiences.
  • It’s not truly “unlearning.” 
    • That might be useful as a concept, but that is not what is actually occuring within your brain.
    • Rather than “unlearning”, you “forget”, “bury” or “overwrite” something with new and better information.
    • The phrase ‘use it or lose it’ is very apropo.
  • Our behavior is not pre-determined. 
    • If such behavior is changeable, then we can change it. 
    • Focus on the new behavior, rather than what you want to change.  It will be more effective.
  • It feels good to make connections and have everything fit into our mental maps. 

Some closing thoughts…

I encourage you to not only focus on what we have “learned” through your experiences and education, but to also expand your understanding of how the mind works as defined by medial science.  There is so much more that I could write on this subject – maybe more later is the writing muse inspires.  Ilze and I kept it simple (relatively).  My latest understanding in this area of how memory works is that a belief was evolving that there was also a “middle ground” between short-term and long-term memory.  In addition, the concept of 7 +or- 2 that has historially been used (Lewin’s research if I remember correctly) may actually be more like 5 + or – 2.  These concepts relate to the concept of “chunking” of information/data. 

Anyone ever thought about how phone numbers are grouped?  That they originally evolved as seven digits?  (Prior to individuals worrying about area or country codes.)  Have you considered how the “breaks” with the dashes help you remember groups of numbers?  They are “chunked” for you. 

Did you happen to notice that I have actively and intentionally “chunk” data for you when I have a large number of bullets (not just here, but in prior posts)?  I do pay attention to the number of bullets I am working with.  I get the list created, then will go back and group together and create sub-bullets where I have more than 5 or 6 bullets.  I use this approach for both writing and in presentations.  It does make a difference.

My hope and wish for today is that you take a few minutes to stop and reflect upon how you have learned, relearned, and “overwritten” information within your mind.  Think about what it has taken to change your memory of someone’s phone number when they change it.  How can your translate your own experiences and understanding of how the mind works into better, more lasting Change Programs?

Some additional information and links from Ilze…

After this article went up, Ilze sent me the following message.

I’ve learned this from our CEO David Rock so in essence he should be quoted for more on this and neuroleadership you can visit his websites:

Guiding Principles

- Think Holistically
- Seek the Root Causes
- Respect the Individual
- Demonstrate Accountability
- Collaborate with Clients
- Work with Integrity, Always
- Relate to the Business Strategy
- Ensure Alignment
- Demonstrate Responsibility
- Transfer Skills

Thoughts and Quotes